Yasiel Puig walks off the field on Oct. 7 after the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss to the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS in St. Louis.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (final)
It’s official. Money didn’t buy happiness. Again. The St. Louis Cardinals have once again eliminated the Dodgers, the highest-paid team in baseball, from playoff contention. This year, it was in four games in the National League Division Series. Last year, it was in the NL championship series.
The Cardinals will be heading to their fourth consecutive NLCS after thwarting a Dodgers rally in the ninth. With one out, A.J. Ellis worked a walk. After pinch hitter Justin Turner struck out, Dee Gordon lined a single to left field, moving pinch runner Yasiel Puig to second.
But closer Trevor Rosenthal induced Carl Crawford to ground to second for the final out. Rosenthal got the save in all three Cardinals’ victories.
Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (end of the eighth inning)
If the Dodgers are going to extend their season, they’re going to have to do it with a ninth-inning rally – something they haven’t accomplished often this season.
St. Louis reliever Pat Neshek, a right-hander with a sidearm delivery, made short work of the Dodgers in the eighth inning. He struck out Matt Kemp, got Hanley Ramirez on a soft, broken-bat liner to shortstop and Andre Ethier on a ground out to second base.
The Dodgers have the bottom of their order in the ninth, starting with Juan Uribe, who has two hits this series. He’s followed by A.J. Ellis, who is batting .538, then the pitcher’s spot, meaning we’ll see either Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner or Scott Van Slyke.
Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez did his job, keeping his team in the game. In 1 2/3 innings, he allowed only one baserunner – a hit batter – and struck out two.
He got Matt Carpenter to fly out to center field leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, then struck out Randal Grichuk.
Manager Don Mattingly then, curiously, replaced Baez with Brandon League, who threw one pitch to get Matt Holliday on a hard grounder to third.
Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (end of seventh inning)
Left-hander Marco Gonzales came on to pitch the seventh inning for the Cardinals – probably because St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny wanted a lefty to go against the left-handed hitting Clayton Kershaw, who was batting second in the inning.
OK, that probably was not the reason. But with all Kershaw had done to that point, could you blame him? Gonzales, the pride of Gonzaga University, induced the right-handed hitting A.J. Ellis to ground out to shortstop, then Kershaw on a ground ball to first base. But then Dee Gordon walked and Carl Crawford singled to right – whistling a liner that nearly struck Gordon as he ran the bases.
But while Gonzales was bloodied – a Cardinals’ trainer tended to him for a nose bleed after Crawford’s hit – he escaped unbowed. He got Adrian Gonzalez on a ground ball to second for the final out.
Then came the bottom of the seventh inning. Ah, the seventh. It wasn’t kind to Kershaw in Game 1 of this series. And it wasn’t kind today.
Kershaw allowed one hit in the first six innings today – just as he did in Game 1. But he allowed three hits – and three runs – to the first three hitters in the seventh.
Matt Holliday, who also started the Cardinals’ Game 1 rally, started the inning with a ground ball single to center that barely eluded a diving try by second baseman Dee Gordon. Jhonny Peralta then lined a single to center, and Matt Adams followed by drilling a hanging curveball over the right-field fence for a three-run home run. That was the end for Kershaw, who left after throwing 102 pitches. Right-hander Pedro Baez came on in relief, just as he did in Game 1.
Baez got Yadier Molina to pop out to first base, hit Jon Jay with a pitch, struck out Kolten Wong, then got pinch hitter Oscar Taveras on a foul out. You might remember the Dodgers had a 6-1 lead heading into the seventh inning of Game 1 and ended up losing, 10-9. If the Dodgers lose today, their season is over.
Can the bullpen hold the Cardinals in check? Baez did his job in the seventh, but the Dodgers’ bullpen earned-run average in the first three games was 8.53.
Dodgers 2, Cardinals 0 (end of sixth)
The Dodgers have the lead. Now, can Clayton Kershaw on short rest hold it?
Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez led off the sixth inning with back-to-back singles to right field. Crawford took third base on Gonzalez’ hit, which was grounded sharply past first baseman Matt Adams. That brought up Matt Kemp, who won Game 2 of the series with a home run. He contributed something less than that this time, hitting a ground ball to shortstop that was turned into a 6-4-3 double play while Crawford scored. Hanley Ramirez was then hit by a pitch, and Andre Ethier walked, spelling the end of Shelby Miller, who looked like he wanted to take a bite out of the home plate umpire – ball four looked like it caught the outside corner. Miller was replaced by right-hander Seth Maness, whose second pitch was ripped into right-center field by Juan Uribe for a run-scoring single.
The inning ended on a great play by catcher Yadier Molina, who knocked down a pitch in the dirt, then picked up the ball and fired over to third base to pick off Ethier.
Ethier was called safe by the third base umpire, but the Cardinals challenged the call and a replay official in New York ruled Matt Carpenter’s tag caught Ethier in the chest just before the runner’s foot hit the bag. Miller’s line in his first postseason start: 5 2/3 innings, five hits, one earned run, three walks, four strikeouts.
Here’s another Clayton Kershaw-Sandy Koufax comparison, just in case you haven’t had enough of them: Both are pretty good on three days rest.
Just in case anybody thought that Kershaw might start to tire around the sixth inning today … uh, no. Kershaw struck out the side in the sixth – Pete Kozma, who was batting in the pitcher’s spot, Matt Carpenter, then Randal Grichuk.
Kershaw is throwing far more off-speed pitches than usual, but his velocity in there when he needs it. His fastball has been in the 93-94 mph range all game. He has nine strikeouts and has thrown 94 pitches, 60 for strikes.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of fifth inning)
The Dodgers were surely hoping that they could provide some run support for Clayton Kershaw, who was pitching on short rest and is backed today by a bullpen so shakey that Cal Tech should be monitoring it. No such luck. Shelby Miller has matched Kershaw and has done it economically, requiring just 66 pitches to blank the Dodgers over five innings.
So far, his toughest outs have been A.J. Ellis and Kershaw, the numbers eight and nine hitters in the Dodgers order. Ellis has a single and a walk. Kershaw has a sacrifice bunt and a single. Ellis’ walk and Kershaw’s single came with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, but Dee Gordon grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.
The Cardinals’ half of the inning got a little weird after two quick outs -- Matt Adams hit a fly ball to center field and Yadier Molina grounded weakly to third base.
Jon Jay then worked a walk, surviving a 2-2 pitch that looked like it might have been strike three. Jay then survived again when a quick throw to first base by Kershaw appeared to pick him off. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez seemed to appeal to the Dodgers bench, asking for a challenge, but Don Mattingly stayed in the dugout. Kolten Wong was then retired when he swung at a pitch that bounced well in front of the plate. The ball caromed off Wong – who was still in the batter’s box -- before Ellis grabbed it, meaning it should have been ruled a foul ball. But it wasn’t and the inning was over.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of fourth)
Shelby Miller has required just 44 pitches to blank the Dodgers over four innings. Adrian Gonzalez led off the fourth with a sharp ground ball that St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong gathered up in short right-center field. He could afford to play that deep because Gonzalez doesn’t run well, and even though Wong was slow getting his throw off, Gonzalez was beaten by a half step. Matt Kemp then grounded out to third and Hanley Ramirez flied weakly to right. Gonzalez, who had a great season offensively, is batting .143 this series.
Clayton Kershaw, as noted earlier, is using far more off-speed pitches than usual -- about half, according to Fox Sports, which is tracking the pitches he’s thrown. Through 3 1/3 innings he faced the minimum number of batters. He kept nemesis Matt Carpenter in check, getting him on a fly ball to left field to lead off the inning. But then Randal Grichuk got the Cardinals first hit of the game, a ground-ball single to left field. Grichuk advanced to second base when Kershaw bounced a curveball well in front of the plate. Catcher A.J. Ellis blocked the ball and kept it in front of him, but Grichuk did a good job of reading the pitch and getting a good jump toward second. Matt Holliday then hit a slow ground ball to second baseman Dee Gordon, advancing Grichuk to third. But Kershaw ended the threat by striking out Jhonny Peralta on wicked off-speed pitch – Kershaw’s sixth strikeout of the game on his 63rd pitch.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of third)
A.J. Ellis is the Dodgers’ leading hitter in the postseason. His single to right field that dropped in front of Randal Grichuk was his seventh hit in 12 at-bats this series. Clayton Kershaw dropped down a bunt that was bobbled by pitcher Shelby Miller, allowing Ellis to move to second base. But that’s as far as Ellis went. Dee Gordon flied out to left and Carl Crawford struck out on three pitches.
The Dodgers dropped Yasiel Puig from their starting lineup because Manager Don Mattingly said the young slugger was late on fastballs. Crawford, too, has been simply overpowered in his first two at-bats against Miller. He struck out on five pitches in his plate appearance.
Clayton Kershaw is really mixing things up, using a lot more off-speed pitches than he did in Game 1 against the Cardinals. And, on three days rest, he looks very sharp. Kershaw has allowed just one baserunner, on a walk, which was followed by a double play. He sailed through the third inning, getting Jon Jay and Kolten Wong on infield ground outs, then striking out Shelby Miller on a 93 mph fastball. Kershaw has five strikeouts and only one ball – the double play – has been hit hard.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of second)
The Dodgers showed a little life in their second look at Shelby Miller, but it didn’t produce a run. Matt Kemp led off the top half of the second with a one-hop single that went off the glove of Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who tried to backhand a ball that was hit very hard. That brought up Hanley Ramirez, who had six hits in 11 at-bats this series. But Ramirez hit a high hopper to third baseman Matt Carpenter, who started a 5-4-3 double play. Andre Ethier, starting in place of Yasiel Puig, worked a walk. That brought up Juan Uribe, who hit a fly ball to right-center field that was caught by Randal Grichuk just in front of center fielder Jon Jay, who was calling for it.
How often does Hanley Ramirez bail out the Dodgers with his defense? Not often. But he did in the bottom of the second inning. After Jhonny Peralta worked a lead-off walk, Ramirez made a diving backhand stop of a hard-hit ball by Matt Adams and turned it into a 6-4-3 double play. Clayton Kershaw then struck out Yadier Molina to end the inning.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of first)
Shelby Miller, St. Louis’ starter, produced some impressive numbers in the last five weeks of the regular season. And it looks like the Dodgers are seeing a continuation. Miller retired the Dodgers in order, on 10 pitches. Sticking almost exclusively with a four-seam fastball in the 95-97 mph range, he struck out Dee Gordon on four pitches, Carl Crawford on five, and got Adrian Gonzalez to pop up his first pitch to third base.
Miller had a win-loss record of 10-9 with a 3.74 earned-run average during the regular season, but since Aug. 23, he has a 2.08 ERA with a 32-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and opponents are batting just .190.
Clayton Kershaw, pitching for the Dodgers on short rest – three days – started strong by striking out the side. He got nemesis Matt Carpenter on a nasty off-speed pitch and Randal Grichuk, who homered off of him in the first inning of Game 1, with a fastball. Matt Holliday went down on what looked like a changeup.
Both pitchers may be benefiting from early evening shadows at Busch Stadium. The mound is in the sunlight, but the plate is in shadows.
And now for today’s key to the game for the Dodgers – make it as easy on Clayton Kershaw as possible.
This will be kinda important. He’s the one feeling all the pressure. He’s the one many will blame if he loses two games in this series.
It’s not like there’s much on the line today when the Dodgers meet the Cardinals in Game 4 of their division series. Just their whole season.
The Dodgers need to support him with perfect defense and plenty of offense. They need to alleviate as much of the burden on Kershaw as they can manage.
The left-hander will be pitching on three days rest instead of his usual four. Pitching against a team that knows it can advance to the National League Championship Series with a victory today and has absolutely no interest in returning to Los Angeles for a decisive Game 5 against Zack Greinke.
Kershaw doesn’t need a tight ballgame, throwing nothing but stressful innings while waiting for the Dodgers’ offense to get rolling. The Dodgers need to jump on Shelby Miller and make a statement early and often.
Try to give Kershaw an opportunity to relax and deal. He probably won’t throw much more than 90 pitches, and the closer he can stretch that until the ninth inning the better.
What they're saying back in St. Louis after Game 3
Strange, there wasn’t any complaining about homeplate umpire Dale Scott coming from the Cardinals’ side after their 3-1 victory in Game 3.
The Cardinals were understandably feeling pretty good about their chances after going up two games to one in the best-of-five series, whether Clayton Kershaw awaits in today’s Game 4 or not.
Here’s a look at what others are saying about the Dodgers’ division series after Monday’s game:
Joe Strauss, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, salutes Dodger-killer Matt Carpenter:
Carpenter did something no hitter in Cardinals history had ever accomplished before Monday: He hit a home run in the third consecutive game of the same postseason series.
All three have come against left-handed pitching, remarkable mostly because Carpenter reached lefties for two home runs all summer.
He is becoming the Cardinals’ money player, remarkable for a guy who took a $1,000 bonus as a drafted college senior.
Post-Dispatch Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold marveled at the dramatic turnaround for St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong:
A year after being picked off at first base to end Game 4 of the World Series, Wong picked up the Cardinals with a home run that puts them on the brink of the National League championship series. Wong turned on the first pitch he saw in the seventh inning and swung the Cardinals to a 3-1 victory against the Los Angeles in Game 3 of the National League division series.
In front of 47,574, the largest baseball crowd in the nine-year history of Busch, Wong took the first October curtain call of his career. He had been enthusiastically pumping his first since rounding the base that had haunted him since last fall.
“The confidence that I have now. The experience that I have playing a full season since then,” Wong said. “All of this stuff I’ve gone through this year, everything, all of it – it all came out right there.”
Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the same newspaper, is much like everyone else. He can’t get over the Cardinals’ sudden power:
There the Dodgers go again, tipping pitches and sleeping as the Cardinals steal their signs. Wasn’t that the theory after Game 1? How else do we explain the sudden spectacle of flexed muscles, amped power and bombs bursting through air?
The Cardinals are hitting home runs like it’s 1998, except that Big Mac now works for the Dodgers. If the Cards hit any more homers, Fox Sports baseball analyst Harold Reynolds might demand an FBI investigation.
After another display of home-run shock and awe, the Cardinals have ripped this National League division series wide open.
They’ve used the long ball to put the Dodgers on a short fuse, one loss from elimination.
Also from Miklasz, he thinks it’s bad form of Matt Kemp to complain about Scott:
I can understand the Dodgers' frustration with umpire Dale Scott's hopelessly incoherent strike zone during Game 3 on Monday.
But the whining makes Matt Kemp look kind of bad, for a couple of reasons.
First, it's never good form to give the impression that you're blaming a loss on an umpire.
Second, the strike zone was "generous" — which means it was pitcher-friendly and rather hostile to hitters — for both teams.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports wonders if the Cardinals haven’t messed with the Dodgers’ psyche:
It wouldn't surprise a soul if the Cardinals were in the heads of the Dodgers at this point. Los Angeles thought they had the better team last year, when they were taken out in the NLCS by these same Cardinals.
Kary Booher, Springfield News-Leader, saluted Wong and also noticed his familiar bat flip after his home run:
Sweet redemption. That's the way most Hollywood storylines play out.
After we got our fill of the Hands Over the Head delivery from the veteran -- and before the chants of "Ya-di, Yadi, Yadi" – along came the Wong Bat Flip.
As the go-ahead two-run home run rocketed toward the home bullpen Monday night, there it was – the wood stick of the lil' second baseman tumbling end over end and, even better, his right hand held out and almost frozen in time.
All eyes are on Clayton Kershaw
This is some kind of set-up for Clayton Kershaw.
A year ago he was hammered in his last start of the year in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in St. Louis. It had to haunt him throughout the off-season.
Then he meets the same Cardinals in the opener of this year’s division series, throws six strong innings and seems to be cruising to a 6-2 victory, when he suffers a rare meltdown in the seventh and is charged with eight runs in a 10-9 loss.
Now comes this: The Dodgers are back in St. Louis needing to win Tuesday to stay alive in the best-of-five series and Kershaw gets the call.
He either redeems himself or suffers an almost unimaginably cruel repeat loss.
“There’s always something to prove,” Kershaw said.
Kershaw will be starting on a day less rest than normal, mostly because he’s the best pitcher in baseball and the Dodgers’ rotation suffers a huge drop-off after Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Manager Don Mattingly announced Kershaw would start Game 4 even before Monday’s game, and his explanation was as simple as it was obvious.
“He’s our best guy,” Mattingly said.
Kershaw, who is expected to win his third Cy Young award this off-season, will be opposed by Cardinals’ 23-year-old Shelby Miller. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA lifetime against the Dodgers.
Miller went 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA during the regular season. In one start against the Dodgers, he went five innings and allowed six runs on seven hits. He later threw one inning of scoreless relief against the Dodgers.
But Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA during the regular season, and it didn’t mean a thing in the seventh inning on Friday.
Now comes another dramatic stage for Kershaw, in an almost eerily familiar setting.